Roads Programme announcements: Assault on the Pennines – all routes to be expanded?!

1st December 2014 The Autumn Statement announcement contains schemes which have received funding approval and also further studies, for all three of the trans-pennine road corridors: North (A66/A69), Central (M62) and South (A628/A57). None of these however have planning permission and the costs published today are fictionally low. Except those which are astronomically high: a tunnel on the Sheffield-Manchester corridor – ‘underneath the Peak District National Park ‘  –  would cost maybe £6 billion.  A full list of all the road schemes for the North East and Yorkshire are here; for the North West here.

See the CBT Roads to Nowhere blog on the national package, which mentions this article.

On the southern trans-pennine corridor they include “investing £170 million on the A57, A628 and A628 trans-Pennine route, including a bypass for the village of Mottram” – although the recent hotspot study costed this much higher – and additionally a ‘study into the feasibility of building a trans-Pennine tunnel to address the strategic gap between Sheffield and Manchester, that would transform capacity and reduce congestion while still preserving the tranquillity of the Peak District’.

In fact the proposals for this corridor contain two schemes around Mottram: ‘Mottram Moor – a new link road from the M67 to a new junction at the A57(T) at Mottram Moor’ and ‘A57(T) to A57 Link Road: a new single carriageway link, bypassing the existing A628/A57, and the A57 Woolley Lane/Hadfield Road junctions’ – and a section of A61 dualling next to M1 junction 36 and A628 climbing lanes within the environmentally sensitive Peak Distric National Park and a range of technology improvements: all for just £170m. That figure doesn’t immediately make any sense, because when the plans for the previous Mottram-Tintwistle bypass were ignominiously withdrawn in 2009 the cost for that road on its own had reached £270m.

10.30am Just published: short extracts from two DfT documents on the road schemes announced today, and the tunnel study to come. These are from this document.

Here’s an extract from the statement of the Friends of the Peak District in response:

“The announcement of the proposed A628 corridor upgrade at three locations along the route with a short bypass of Mottram, climbing lanes in the Peak District National Park and dualling of the A61 in South Yorkshire is the old story of a motorway by stealth – piecemeal upgrades that will lead to demands for more and more upgrades. It also ignores the rail investment that the North desperately needs. The A628 Woodhead route passes straight through the heart of the Peak District National Park which has the strongest protection in the country. Government proposals for upgrading the route and making it more attractive to through traffic would cause immense damage to well-loved landscapes and European nature conservation sites.

“The short bypass of Mottram will free up congestion at the Longdendale bottleneck, but it will also open up the corridor and invite traffic to divert off the M62 and take the shorter journey. Once this happens the traffic jams, air pollution and traffic collisions will quickly return. Climbing lanes in the National Park and opening up the route for long distance traffic go against Government policy. There is a strong presumption against any significant road widening in a National Park, and any investment in trunk roads should be directed to developing routes for long distance traffic which avoid the Parks.”

See also the statement by Anne Robinson, Friend of the Peak District, issued last week against more road building on this corridor – Objections Trans-Pennine upgrade. There’s more background on the very long-running – and so far successful – campaign against this project on Transport North here. and in our recent article “Go the whole way, complete the M67, with a tunnel underneath”.

Yorkshire Post:  ‘£6bn tunnel plan and M62 upgrade green-lit to ease trans-Pennine traffic’ – “We are talking about one of the longest road tunnels in Europe,” said a Department for Transport spokesman. “The initial estimate is £6bn and we want to see whether the plan is feasible – or not. No one wants to put a dual carriageway through the Peak District so we are signalling a commitment to look at the alternatives. There is still a lot of work to do.”

Manchester Evening News: ‘Trans-Pennine tunnel between Manchester and Sheffield part of £800m government transport plans for North West’

And there are more Transpennine projects – in addition to the M62 upgrades! –  to be looked at further north: ‘Study of the case for dualling the A69 and/or A66 to create a new strategic link across the Pennines in northern England’. This will follow the previous study of more than a decade ago (which the present author Anthony Rae participated in)  into the alleged  – and as the study determined untrue –  claim that the A66 was one of the unsafest roads in the country. At least now the motivation – capacity expansion – is more honest.

I see that the current Penrith & the Borders MP Rory Stewart, in welcoming the study, also references the safety issue: “This is a major win for the communities of north Cumbria. The A66 has been due for improvements for decades. So many of us are affected by the delays, the congestion, and the serious safety issues on the route. The link will unlock the economic potential of Penrith and the M6 corridor”. It is of course perfectly reasonable to campaign for improved safety on any road, but what the previous study demonstrated – in addition to the fact that the A66 Scotch Corner-Penrith did not have a KSI rate out of the ordinary for its class of road – was that a package of smaller safety interventions could have made further significant improvements, quickly and cheaply, as against the end-to-end dualling option which was expensive, environmentally damaging, and unnecessary on ‘safety’ grounds.

What has happened to the safety record of the A66 since that study? In the 2010 EuroRAP maps it is shown as ‘Low-Medium risk’ throughout, consistent with the more detailed study findings. By 2014 the eastern section Brough-Scotch Corner had moved up to Medium risk, whilst the western bit – in Rory Stewart’s constituency – is still ‘Low-Medium risk’. The A69 – also to feature in the new study – is ‘Low-Medium risk’ throughout. What you can see in the maps however are quite a number of roads in the two most serious categories – ‘High’ and ‘Medium-High risk’ – which ought to receive attention on safety grounds before either A66/69. So which is now more important: tackling road danger systematically where it actually exhibits itself, or creating a ‘new strategic link across the Pennines in northern England’?

Also included in the package announced today is A1 Dualling (“investing £290 million to upgrade the A1 from Morpeth to Ellingham to create 34 miles of continuous new expressway-standard road to Ellingham and add further improvements between Ellingham and the Scottish border”), and lots and lots of ‘smart motorway’.